What You Don’t Know About the Homeless Services Reform Amendment Act of 2017

The Homeless Services Reform Amendment Act of 2017 is currently under DC Council review.  After mulling over the latest amendments they will vote on it again December 5, 2017.  Before that happens, we’d like Grassroots DC readers to have some basic information about this bill so we’ve cross-posted the following from the Fair Budget Coalition, which describes what happened during the debate of proposed changes to the bill on November 7, 2017.

D.C. Seeks to Improve Its Comprehensive Plan

Cross-Posted from Street Sense
by Ashley Clarke

The D.C. Office of Planning is amending the Comprehensive Plan, a long-standing document that outlines priorities for D.C.’s future growth and change. In a statement from the Office of Planning, Director Eric Shaw encouraged residents to read the Comprehensive Plan and make suggestions for changes.

“‘Planning an Inclusive City’ is the guiding vision for the DC Comprehensive Plan. An inclusive city is one where every member of the community feels welcome wherever they are in the city, and where everyone has a fair and equitable opportunity to live a healthy, successful and fulfilling life,” Edward Geifer, associate director of the Office of Planning, wrote in an email to Street Sense.

A heterogeneous coalition was born out of the Office of Planning’s call to the public.  Community organizations, for-profit and nonprofit developers, faith groups, tenant advocates and other local organizations have formed a loose coalition of interested parties to identify priorities for creating more affordable housing and community support for under-resourced communities in D.C.  The coalition met over several months to reach an agreement on a series of priorities that are listed on their website at www.DCHousingpriorities.org.Comprehensive-Plan-Timeline-717x422

According to the 2016 annual census done by the D.C. Council on Homelessness,  8,350 people experience homelessness on any given night in the city.  Coalition members want to see growth in the city but also want the Office of Planning to know that growth does not mean pushing marginalized people further to the margins.

“It is possible to build new housing, including a good measure of affordable housing, and grow the District’s tax base in a way that makes business sense and advances the public good. The result can be a combination of new housing and amenities for residents and increased revenue for the city so it can continue to enhance quality of life,” said Aakash Thakkar in the a news release. Thakkar is the senior vice president of EYA, a real estate development firm that is part of the coalition.

Coalition  members believe that more affordable housing and targeted support for D.C. communities should be in the Comprehensive Plan.  Philip Stump-Kennedy told Street Sense that Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC) joined the coalition in hopes of using the Office of Planning as a tool for their mission. Stump-Kennedy is the regional tenant organizing manager at LEDC. He said he is tasked with the preservation of affordable housing in D.C, which is one of the priorities the coalition wants addressed. He referred to the lack of affordable housing in D.C. and said it is important that subsidized housing like Section 8 housing is maintained in the District.

Stump-Kennedy also believes rent control is an important part of affordable housing preservation. The rest of the coalition agrees and lists the protection of tenants as a priority. Stump-Kennedy said that the LEDC focuses on organizing tenants, connecting them with attorneys and other tenant associations. Stump-Kennedy said there is strength in numbers and organization.

“We need policies that preserve the affordable housing we already have as the District develops. It’s clear the city needs more units to meet the demand of the people coming here, but we also need strategies to protect tenants who are struggling to stay in the city. Those goals don’t have to be in conflict,” said Rob Wohl, a tenant organizer for the LEDC, in a news release.

The coalition members believe that the development of affordable housing and equitable economics requires the participation of all D.C. communities in order to move toward a solution. A full list of organizations and businesses in support of the D.C. housing priorities can be found on their webpage.

Residents can get involved by signing up for updates at plandc.dc.gov and submitting proposed amendments during the open call period for amendments.

Proposed Bill to Fund DC Public Housing Repairs Raises Concerns

The fight to increase the amount of affordable housing in the District of Columbia should also include efforts to maintain the city’s public housing. It was a need for clean, safe and affordable housing that prompted the creation of public housing in the 1930s. That need still exists today but our willingness to fund it has been on the decline since the 1960s. Today, the Public Housing Operating Fund—the main source of revenue for public housing maintenance and repairs–pays for only 86% of the items in HUD’s budget.

It looks as though the D.C. City Council may at long last be trying to make up the difference with the Public Housing Rehabilitation Amendment Act of 2016.  The problem that those who advocate on behalf of public housing have with the bill is that it won’t pay for maintenance if the housing is slated for redevelopment. So if you live in Barry Farm, Kenilworth Courts, Park Morton, Highland Dwellings or Lincoln Heights–all properties scheduled for eventual redevelopment–you’re out of luck.

The article below provides more details.

New Legislation Welcomed by Public Housing Advocates

Cross-posted from Street Sense
Written By Reginald Black

ReginaldBlack1-750x422Members of the Empower DC housing campaign and residents of public housing took a walk around the Wilson Building weeks before the first FY2017 budget vote to meet with council members and discuss their budget priorities. The residents have been calling for desperately needed repairs to both occupied and unoccupied units of public housing managed by the D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA). The residents have been requesting work orders for more than six years, some properties haven’t been properly maintained since the 1980s.

In March, At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman and Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1), Charles Allen (Ward 6) and Mary Cheh (Ward 3) introduced a bill that would provide funds for maintenance of existing public housing units. It is a great move by council, but public housing residents still had some concerns regard language within the bill.

One of the first stops on the list was Ward 8 Councilmember LaRuby May’s office. The councilwoman was not in at the time, but the group met with Councilwoman May’s staff. Their main concern stems from a line in the bill that states the repair funds allocated could not be used for properties up for demolition. “We wanted to address line 46,” said Detrice Bel, leader of the Barry Farm Tenant and Allies Association. “Residents have an issue with that.”

“I live in a development on Capitol Hill that is supposed to be upkept, but it’s not,” said public housing resident Robert Lee. He asked if May’s office could seek changes to the language of the bill that would force maintenance people do their job. “We need more accountability when it comes to public housing. It’s like everybody’s looking for a paycheck.”

Lee also described his days as a maintenance worker. “In the morning, we clean up the activity from the night before,” he said. “But after that, when is the work going to get done in the places?”

May’s legislative director, Michael Austin said their office is open to all ideas. “We’re always trying to find what we can do to preserve homes, that includes public housing.”

To Lee, there is no observable sense of urgency on these issues. “These are people’s lives we’re talking about,” he said. “These are the same arguments we present you all the time.” The bill has not moved forward since a notice of intent to act on it was published in the District of Columbia register on March 18.

Rallying for Housing for D.C.’s Homeless

Cross-Posted from WTOP
Written by Allison Keyes

WASHINGTON — There was standing-room only at Foundry United Methodist Church in D.C. on Saturday morning, where hundreds turned out for the Fulfill the Promise rally. Organizers are hoping to ensure affordable housing, end chronic homelessness, and make sure all who need help finding a place to live have somewhere to turn.

“There shouldn’t be … homelessness anywhere in the United States,” says Thomas Hood. He lived on the street for 13 years, but has housing now, through the nonprofit Community Connections. “I’ve got an apartment, washer, dryer and everything. I just have to come out to get food.”

The rally, sponsored by The Way Home Campaign and the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing & Economic Development’s Housing for All Campaign, included a call for District leaders to increase investments in affordable housing and strategies to end homelessness.

“We know that ending chronic homelessness is possible,” says Emily Buzzell of Miriam’s Kitchen. “D.C. has developed the Homeward DC plan to end chronic homelessness by 2017, but we are not on track to meet this goal.”

Among other things, organizers want to see the Home Purchase Assistance Program expanded, an increase in the Local Rent Supplement Program, and reforms in rent stabilization. They also want the District to commit at least $100 million in the Housing Production Trust Fund to build new housing and ensure the opportunity for tenants to preserve affordable housing.

Mayor Muriel Bowser, who spoke at the event, says the money is there.

“We’ve already committed to 100 million in affordable housing each and every year,” Bowser told reporters. “We were able to accomplish it last year and we’ll do it again this year.”

Patricia Samuels, who is homeless, barely sees her 15-year-old son because she has no place for them to live together. She says instead of spending money on things like the D.C. streetcar, the District should be putting up more subsidized housing.

“I think that would really help,” Samuels says.

Support Affordable Housing by Supporting Museum Square Tenants

chinatown_protestMuseum Square is a Section 8 apartment complex in the Chinatown neighborhood of Washington, D.C.   The Section 8 or  Housing Choice Voucher Program  is a federal program that assists very low-income families, the elderly and the disabled who cannot afford decent, safe and sanitary housing in the private market.  Since housing assistance is provided on behalf of the family or individual, participants are free to choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program and are not limited to units located in subsidized housing projects.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?  The problem is that the vast majority of housing in the District doesn’t meet the requirement simply because landlords refuse to accept Housing Choice vouchers.

Housing Choice vouchers are traditionally accepted in low-income communities.  The District’s neighborhoods are gentrifying so quickly that there are very few low-income communities left.  When an otherwise low-income or working class community like Chinatown is “developed,” landlords who have contracts with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to accept Housing Choice or Section 8 vouchers often decide not to renew their contract.  Once the contract runs out, they can sell the property to a developer who will kick out all of the voucher holders and move in tenants who can afford whatever rent they want to charge without government assistance.  We call this displacement.  But it doesn’t have to  happen.

We, the people of DC, can take a stand for development without displacement, and help tenants stay in their homes!

Jews United for Justice, Andy Shallal, and Think Local First DC are throwing a party for neighbors and local businesses to celebrate and support the tenants of Museum Square in their struggle. 

Celebrating the Museum Square Community
Monday July 20, 2015
6:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Busboys and Poets (5th and K location)
1025 5th Street NW

When the Williamsburg, Va-based Bush Companies (also known as the W.H.H. Trice & Company, but neither has any meaningful online presence) decided they didn’t want to renew their Section 8 contract for the Museum Square Apartment complex, they informed the tenants.  Because 70% of the tenants in the 312-unit complex are Chinese immigrants many of whom have limited English, they relied on the remaining 30%, most of whom are African-American to explain the meaning of the eviction letter that the Bush Companies had placed under their doors.

The tenants had two distinct choices, they could take their Housing Choice vouchers to another landlord or they could try and take advantage of the city’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act or TOPA.   According to this legislation, Museum Square residents would be able to stay in their homes if they or a nonprofit developer willing to work with them, could come up with the $250 million dollars that the Bush Companies were asking for the property.  Of course, if each household had $800,000 to pay for their apartments, they could bypass the nonprofit developer all together.

Turns out none of them wanted to leave their homes, but the $250 million dollars that the Bush Companies was asking for was more than any reasonable non-profit developer would try and raise.  So the tenants went with a third option.  They sued the Bush Companies for violating TOPA.  Their case was based on the assumption that the price for the building was set astronomically high so that the tenants couldn’t possibly raise the money.  Last year the property was valued at $36 million.  So, it’s also unlikely that a for profit developer would make an offer of anything close to $250 million for the building.   Not selling the building would allow the Bush Company to evict the low-rent tenants, tear the building down, build high-priced luxury condos and make a ridiculous profit in the process.

D.C.’s city council was also alarmed by the $250 million price tag.  Was this loophole in TOPA the beginning of a new trend that would allow landlords a way out of their Section 8 contracts without the constraints of TOPA?  In response,  the city passed emergency legislation they hoped would stop the Bush Companies from selling or tearing down the property.  The Bush Company in turn sued the city, claiming that the law singled them out.   It didn’t work.  In April of this year, a judge rejected the $250 million price tag, ruling that it was not a “bonafide offer of sale.”  But the fight is not over.  Despite claiming that they no longer want out of their Section 8 contract, the Bush Companies has applied for a permit to raze Museum Square.  If the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs approves their application the residents of Museum Square could still lose their homes.

What’s most remarkable about this story is the cooperation between the African-American and Chinese residents of Museum Square.  The District of Columbia remains one of the most diverse city’s in the nation.  It is also just about the most segregated.  If the Chinese-American and African-American residents of Museum Square are forced to disperse—most likely to the suburbs—the city will become just that much more segregated.  We’ll also lose another 312  affordable apartments.  All of this thanks to the greed of a multi-million dollar corporation based in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Join Jews United for Justice, Andy Shallal and Think Local First DC Monday night to make sure #MuseumSquareStays. Hear from tenants and neighborhood leaders on how to support our neighbors as developers like the owner of the building – Bush Companies, which has a long, bad track record for affordability in DC – threaten to push them out.

Being at this party is your vote for a diverse city – and makes a huge difference to struggling tenants who want to know you’re behind them.